After spending a weekend against the Padres in which most everything went wrong, coming home to face the Pittsburgh Pirates is like chicken soup for the soul. Mistakes aren’t as easily capitalized on. Early leads can get you through the night. It’s a lot more likely to hear “That’s a winner!” at the end of everything.
Last night’s game was a rematch of the first game of the last series, pitting JT Brubaker against John Gant. The first time out, the Cardinals defeated Brubaker but he had a fairly good game against them, giving up three runs via solo tallies in three of the first four innings, but striking out seven and walking none. As the team has done a couple of times this year, though, the second time they see a pitcher, the results are better. Last night, Nolan Arenado (as he does) struck early, blasting a two-run homer in the first inning. The Cardinals got two more on a flare by Tommy Edman in the second and tacked on in the third when Edmundo Sosa, disproving my uncharitable thought that the results would be the same whether they pitched to him or walked him to get to the pitcher, doubled in what turned out to be the final Redbird run.
Brubaker did get a couple outs in the sixth, but overall his line wasn’t nearly as sharp as before. In large part, this could be explained by that category we’ve been keeping such an eye on–walks. In April, he didn’t walk anyone. Last night, he walked three, which was a lot given the fact he’s walked one or less in five of his seven previous starts. The walks hurt. Dylan Carlson drew a walk and scored on Arenado’s home run. Harrison Bader walked and scored on Edman’s flare. Arenado walked and scored on Sosa’s double.
Perhaps he should get with Gant to figure out how to keep baserunners from scoring. Dan McLaughlin and Ricky Horton were saying on the broadcast last night how good Gant had been with runners on base. Given how much practice he’s had at it this season, perhaps that’s not surprising. If he’d even been slightly worse than he’s been, he might not be currently a member of the rotation. Gant currently has a left on base rate of 83.1%, which is insane when you think about it. He had a slightly higher rate as a reliever his first year with the Cardinals, but he’s usually more around the 65-70% mark. If my quick and dirty math is right, if he was at his normal rate, he’d have allowed about eight more runs this year, meaning his ERA would be 3.96 instead of 2.04 if they were all earned. A 4.00 ERA from your fifth starter isn’t bad, but the narrative around him might be a little different than when his ERA is half that.
What typically has gotten Gant in trouble has been walks, a category he leads the league in, but for the first time this season, Gant only allowed one free pass last night. Because baseball demands a balance, he gave up more hits than he usually does (five, one off his season high), but as Alex and I were talking about on Chirps last night, you’d rather the hits in some regards because it at least gives your fielders the chance. Of course, hits can also do more damage than walks, but there’s something so deflating about watching a guy walk four or five batters in a start.
Gant got out of whatever trouble he got into until the sixth, when he allowed a leadoff double and then his only walk of the game. He was able to get a liner that allowed him to get the runner going to third, but that knocked him out of the game in favor of Genesis Cabrera, who wild pitched (about the time you think someone’s got it under control, they do this sort of thing) and then allowed a groundout and a single to allow both of his inherited runners to score and to bump Gant’s season ERA over the 2.00 mark.
There’s no doubt that Gant has done more than anyone expected, but I also feel like this is a tightrope that the Cardinals want to get off of before things come crashing down or perhaps a better analogy would be selling a house now while the bubble is growing instead of having an overpriced property when it bursts. It looks like the Cardinals are going to go with six pitchers starting this weekend as Miles Mikolas makes his first major league appearance since 2019 and Carlos Martinez returns from the injured list. When this stretch of games (17 more in a row) is over, you would expect that barring injury, Gant would be the odd man out. So he should get 2-3 more starts, which won’t be enough to ruin what he’s done so far and shouldn’t be enough to damage the season.
Giovanny Gallegos got two innings last night. I’m a little surprised at how they are using him–not that he didn’t need to be in a game like this, because he obviously did, but this is the fifth time in the last six outings that he’s thrown more than an inning and he’s done it eight times this year. If he can consistently do this, it does help paper over the flaws of the bullpen, but it’s also hard to imagine you can do this too often and still have an effective Gallegos in September and October. He’s got a streak of four scoreless outings going, though, and he struck out three last night so it doesn’t seem to be affecting him yet.
Nolan Arenado has homered in four straight games now. He added a walk and a single to continue to sizzle, so we’ll continue to tag him as the Hero. The Goat would probably be Justin Williams, who struck out all four times he batted last night, leaving five on base. It seems clear that teams are focusing on the inside corner against Williams and he’s having absolutely no success at finding an antidote.
Before the game, the Cards made some roster moves, putting Tyler O’Neill on the IL and sending back Junior Fernandez while activating Daniel Ponce de Leon and John Nogowski. This doesn’t make the team better, but usually putting a starter on the IL means that the team isn’t going to improve with whatever moves you make. We’ll see what Ponce can do but imagine it’ll be a bit before we see him. I would hope they aren’t willing to trust an undecided game to him at the moment.
Perhaps tonight will be a spot for him. You have to like your chances when Jack Flaherty is going up against the worst team in the division, though baseball has a funny way of doing exactly the opposite of what you expect. Flaherty struck out nine Pirates when he matched up against Trevor Cahill on the first of May, but allowed three runs in six innings. The Cardinals got seven hits and five runs off of Cahill in that game and, if they are able to do better against a pitcher the second time around, there might be enough of a gap that some of the lesser lights of the bullpen can find some playing time.